Convergence can be described as a new collaborative research model, in which social, technical and medical knowledge and methods are combined. In fact, in scientific literature worldwide, convergence is seen as the best way to solve complex, contemporary problems in the fields of healthcare, energy, food, climate or water. TU Delft, Erasmus University Rotterdam and Erasmus MC have entered into a Convergence Alliance in order to achieve a better understanding of, and approach to, the challenges posed by the Rotterdam delta and urban deltas worldwide.
Knowledge leading to solutions
In a convergence, advantage is taken of the vast reservoir of knowledge and forms of research. But it is new, so it is also exciting. Nikki Brand is a researcher and strategic policy advisor on cross-disciplinary work at TU Delft. She explains why she believes convergence is necessary. “Knowledge at universities has traditionally been created in silos. Researchers specialise in a problem, or sometimes in a solution, but rarely do we see it really take off in practice. As a scientist, I studied international flood protection of cities, especially the role of planning. But I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life researching plans to protect cities from water without ever actually helping a city.” She saw this happen in Houston, Texas, where she was doing research. “There was plenty of knowledge, but it didn’t come together into viable solutions, nor did it get to the politicians. The city is still being flooded.”
A high level of scale
One of the first institutes to use the concept of convergence was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, for the ‘future of health’. It has long been known that major medical challenges require a combination of biomedical knowledge, natural sciences and computer science to be solved. But convergence is also increasingly needed outside the health sciences.
Brand: “At TU Delft we have good engineers and designers, we can get them to work in a coordinated way, but we lack information from social sciences and humanities. For example, when rebuilding after a tsunami, you also need to know what role trauma plays. In delta issues, in addition to spatial planning or knowledge of hydraulic engineering or climate development, you also need administrative and economic knowledge. Precisely because deltas have such a high level of scale and complexity. Cities are becoming increasingly densely populated, deltas are climate-sensitive areas because of the rivers. “Something really has to be done if we want this to run smoothly in the near and distant future too.”